Design blog Signal vs. Noise today reminded everyone of the 1997 Times infographic reproduced above. Nicholas Kristof, whose article on world disease featured the chart, declared in an old-but-recently-surfaced email that "no graphic in human history has saved so many lives in Africa and Asia." Apparently it persuaded billionaire Bill Gates to start donating his money to disease prevention instead of global internet access. Kristof said the Microsoft founder was too lazy to read the full, 3,500-world article:
in september i traveled with bill gates to africa to look at his work fighting aids there. while setting the trip up, it emerged that his initial interest in giving pots of money to fight disease had arisen after he and melinda read a two-part series of articles i did on third world disease in January 1997. until then, their plan had been to give money mainly to get countries wired and full of computers.
bill and melinda recently reread those pieces, and said that it was the second piece in the series, about bad water and diarrhea killing millions of kids a year, that really got them thinking of public health. Great! I was really proud of this impact that my worldwide reporting and 3,500-word article had had. But then bill confessed that actually it wasn't the article itself that had grabbed him so much-it was the graphic. It was just a two column, inside graphic, very simple, listing third world health problems and how many people they kill. but he remembered it after all those years and said that it was the single thing that got him redirected toward public health.
No graphic in human history has saved so many lives in africa and asia.
Indeed. There really should be prizes for this sort of thing. For runner-up, I nominate Entertainment Weekly's 21 Bad Movie Hairdos, which, through extensive distribution in American salons, has prevented untold suffering from happening in the first place.